Review: Fic

Fic by Anne Jamison


I may not have been raised by fans, but I was raised on (and by) fandom. While I consider that first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 the revealing of my fannish destiny, I watched my first episode of Digimon in 1999. Add Internet access and the now actually lost Lost Temple of Ishida (a thousand blessings on the Wayback Machine, seriously), and I was reading and writing fanfiction well before I understood that I had the ability to wear different shoes on different days. I mean, I was nine years old when I got my first FanFiction.Net account. Given the shoddiness of my memory, I’ve practically never known a world without fanfiction.

But it’s only recently that the world at large has started to pay attention to fanfiction, especially with the financial success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Enter Anne Jamison’s Fic, where professional writers and fan writers offer their perspectives on the subject to provide a nuanced view of the practice to combat views like, say, Diana Gabaldon’s. I assumed this was going to be an essay collection, but Jamison instead offers a thorough guided tour through the prehistory, history, and applications of fanfiction, with her guests offering perspective, clarification, and opinions. Given the breakneck speed of fandom (there were Bond/Q fics written and published before Skyfall came out; bless those tumblrinas!), Fic can feel dated—exactly as Jamison predicts. Despite the fact that Jamison is an academic who came to fandom (versus a fan who came to academia), her enthusiasm and respect for the medium shines through.

It hits the ground running with “The Theory of Narrative Casualty,” as Jamison describes her frustration attempting to read the Sherlock fic of the same name and then discovering that it’s actually the most postmodern fic she’s ever seen, transposing Sherlock’s cast to the world of fandom. Some of these arguments will sound familiar to the fannish faithful, but it’s so wonderful to hear them again. Fanfiction’s been around since the dawn of time in one form or another. Fanfiction is a unique, noncommercialized domain that allows marginalized people, especially women, to speak up and explore. Fanfiction is not autonomous and easy to file the serial numbers off of; it’s intertextuality at its purest.

Except when it’s not. I could go on about everything that was comfortingly familiar about Fic (Sherlock fanfiction is so sprawling because the show only averages three episodes every three years!) but where I found the most interesting and challenging concepts was the application, especially when it clashed with everything I thought I knew about fandom. At one point, while talking about Cassandra Clare’s plagiarism, Jamison asks why fans treat copyright infringement (illegal) as laughable but draw the line at plagiarism (also illegal). I side with on the Organization of Transformative Works on that, obviously, but it’s an interesting point to make. But by far the most interesting subject Jamison and company tackle is that of the Twilight fandom.

If fandom is the cutting edge of remix culture, then the Twilight fandom is absolutely beyond the pale. Fans, as I know them, write fanfiction because they love their source text. In “Becoming Bella Swan,” Randi Flanagan discusses being so frustrated with Bella that she ended up rewriting her entirely, an impulse not that far off from being frustrated by Christine Chapel and writing her a better life. But other fans featured don’t see Twilight as a source text to play merry intertextual hell with; they see it as a prompt. I was absolutely shocked to discover that at least one author specifically sought out the Twilight fandom as a place to seek feedback on her prose, and that several authors pulled to publish in the fandom. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but it’s certainly atypical behavior for a fandom. But that’s what makes it so fascinating.

This, of course, leads to the question of what happens when you commercialize fanfiction by filing the serial numbers off or, in the case of Amazon Worlds, by granting permission. One author who pulled her John/Sherlock fic to publish it as a romance novel ended up changing it to a heterosexual romance. Part of the reason that fanfiction is such a wonderful breeding ground for alternative sensibilities is the fact that it doesn’t have to bow to the mainstream to even exist. Fanfiction’s uneven legal grounding might be what ultimately protects it as that safe space.

And this is barely the tip of the iceberg. There’s fandom history, an excerpt from the college thesis of Chris Rankin (also known as Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films), thoughts on conceptual writing, and a whole piece on flame wars. In short, there’s everything that fans and non-fans need to get themselves acquainted with both the basics and the complexities of fanfiction.

Bottom line: An introduction to fanfiction for the uninitiated that also offers up challenging and fascinating perspectives for long-time fans. A necessity for fans and those who want to understand why we do what we do.

I read this book on NetGalley.

9 thoughts on “Review: Fic

  1. This sounds really interesting, even to someone who very rarely writes (or reads) fan fiction. I came to fan fic through the Chaletian Bulletin Board (a forum for the writing of Elinor M Brent-Dyer, a British writer of Girlsown type books), and it always surprises me how much fans have to say to interpret the characters, either re-telling stories or fleshing out the personalities and back-stories of minor (and sometimes even major) characters.

    I hope I can get this in the UK.

    • Exactly! Fans flesh it out so much. That’s probably my favorite part about it; the life we put into it.

      I don’t know if this is available Stateside, but it might be digitally? I’m not sure how those rights shake out.

  2. As someone who’s dabbled in fanfic I’d like to read this one.

    It seems to me to be the ultimate ownership of the original text. To want to work with the raw materials of someone else’s art & draw it out anew. I liked your comments about intertextuality too.

    • Henry Jenkins has a good quote somewhere about how all our modern myths are owned by corporations (superheroes, for instance), which explains part of the impulse to fic. And, honestly, it really is the purest form of intertextuality, to the point of being, ideally, unable to stand alone. The point is that you need to have read the original text to see how the fic plays with it.

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